By Rich Ruben
With Trojan basketball on pause and not playing again until at least December 31, it feels like a good time to consider whether USC has the right head coach. Over the years there has been a lot of complaining by some Trojan fans: Enfield is a poor in- game coach; he doesn’t make adjustments; the Trojan players don’t improve; he recruits too many players who are not PAC 12 caliber. And there are several more. It’s easy after the fact to disagree with a decision which doesn’t work out. Let’s take a deep dive into Enfield’s tenure to determine if these criticisms are borne out by the facts.
Trojan Basketball Was Not On The Grid When Enfield Was Hired
There were no lines to apply for the opening to coach at USC. Trojan basketball has never been a major part of the LA sports scene. Attendance was poor at the Sports Arena. The athletic department believed interest and attendance would improve when Galen opened and for the first season those expectations were met. In the next season or two student attendance fell off and the Trojans routinely draw 3000-4500, the second worst attendance in the league above only Washington State. Even when the Trojans are good the crowds rarely exceed 5000 except for games against the Bruins or when Arizona has a good team. As a result of low revenue the Trojan athletic department did not provide basketball with a lot of resources.
The resource situation has gotten better under Mike Bohn. The non coaching basketball staff has expanded, the new in-house video staff has been helpful and the Trojans have chartered planes for some trips. DeMar DeRozan financed a new weight room at Galen for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Like all of his predecessors Bohn has plans to draw more students to Galen, but the virus has pushed back the initiation of those plans.
Historically USC basketball has been an afterthought in LA. Except for a few short periods over the decades there has not been a lot of success. Bob Boyd had a good few years with teams led by Hall of Famer Paul Westphal. George Raveling had two good seasons with Harold Miner. Henry Bibby took USC to the Elite Eight based on one really good recruiting class. Stan Morrison tied for one PAC 8 title in a year in which 19 total wins was enough. USC received a lot of attention the year Tim Floyd brought in high school sensation OJ Mayo and again during DeMar DeRozan’s one year when the Trojans won the PAC 10 Tournament. That is the extent of Trojan success over fifty plus years.
There were also some great wins in the five decades before Pat Haden hired Enfield, but many more years of terrible basketball. Bob Boyd’s teams in the late ‘70’s lost 20 conference games in a row and were 2-22 in conference games over a two year stretch. The team’s official record during these years shows a win over Oregon State by forfeit but the Beavs actually won the game 78-61.
In Stan Morrison’s final two years the Trojans were 11-20 and 11-17. George Raveling was perhaps USC’s biggest name when hired in the late 80’s (assuming we don’t count Rick Majerus’ five day tenure in 2006. He had taken Utah to a Final Four, but backed out of his newly signed contract with the Trojans to be closer to his mother in the Midwest). Raveling may have had a long successful run but he quit coaching after a major auto accident in which he sustained significant injuries and left a legacy of the Miner years and little else.
Henry Bibby was such a difficult personality that his son, Mike Bibby, who became the number 2 pick in the draft, not only signed with Lute Olson and Arizona but also didn’t speak with his father for years. Bibby Sr. was fired mid season when player complaints about his negativity and difficult personality became too much to ignore. Tim Floyd was a good coach and brought in some talented though tainted players such as Mayo and Devon Jefferson, as well as freshman star DeMar DeRozan. Floyd was forced out when athletic director Mike Garrett tried to save the football program from severe NCAA penalties over the Reggie Bush incident. Garrett made Floyd the sacrificial lamb by forcing Floyd out over much lesser allegations about Mayo in order to try to demonstrate that USC did not suffer from a lack of institutional control, an effort that proved unsuccessful.
Garrett followed up the Floyd episode by hiring Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill was not only a very poor coach and recruiter but he also possessed an acid personality which he didn’t try to hide. He famously was suspended by the conference during the Conference Tournament when he and his wife were involved in a skirmish with an Arizona booster in a hotel lobby. O’Neill was angry because he believed the booster threatened to withhold large donations to Arizona if the Wildcats promoted O’Neill to replace Lute Olson. After this incident O’Neill’s wife was banished to an otherwise empty suite in the rafters at Trojan home games for the rest of his tenure and was not allowed to sit behind the bench.
O’Neill was fired a few years later after a mid season player revolt over O’Neill’s negative personality. Pat Haden famously said when he hired Enfield to replace KO that the Trojan roster had a number of non PAC 12 caliber players. The lowest of the many lows during KO’s tenure was a 42-36 home loss to Cal Poly; hard to know which was worse – scoring only 36 points or losing to Cal Poly. The Trojans scored over 40 points in both of the famous pre shot clock era “stall” games against undefeated UCLA and Lew Alcindor in March 1969 when the Trojans intentionally slowed the games and held the ball for minutes at a time to offset the Bruins’ talent and to upset the number 1 team in the country. O’Neill was the worst Trojan head coach in any major sport unless someone can make the case that one of the baseball coaches over the last 20 years was worse, which would shock me.
Trojan Basketball Was Not A Draw For Elite Coaches In 2014
The Trojan basketball budget was very low and name coaches had no interest. Enfield was reportedly one of two finalists for the Trojan job that Spring. He was coming off the surprise Sweet 16 and “Dunk City” run at Florida Gulf Coast. The other main candidate was Mike Hopkins, the long time lead assistant under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.
A few years later Hopkins was hired by Washington and in his first two years his team compiled a 48-22 and a conference title. He was winning with upperclassmen recruited by his predecessor Lorenzo Romar. After those players were gone the Huskies fell to last place in the Pac 12 last season. In the early going this season Hopkins’ Huskies have already lost at home by 8 to Montana, a team the Trojans handily beat by 14 last month.
The team Enfield inherited had players like Omar Oraby who was over 7’ but couldn’t run or jump. Another big man was James Blasczyk, who I barely remember. Ari Stewart was a transfer from Wake Forest who O’Neill raved about before his first game at Troy. Stewart played one year at USC and averaged 3 points and shot 31% from the field.
This was a true rebuilding job. In Enfield’s first two years the Trojans finished last in the conference and won a total of 23 games, mostly against low level schools such as Northern Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, West Alabama, Howard, Cal State Bakersfield, Tennessee Tech and Portland State. They won 2 conference games in year one and 4 in year two including a first round PAC 12 Tournament upset of ASU.
Enfield’s Teams Over The Last 5 Years Have Been Very Competitive
There are a number of ways to measure coaching success and we’ll consider several here.
Over the last five years the Trojans have won more games than in any other five year period. That’s a bit misleading because teams play more games now each season than years ago, but it is still an indication of some success. He likes to say that over the same time period the Trojans have won the third most conference games in the Pac 12. Considering the UCLA and Arizona brands and how good Oregon has been under Dana Altman, that’s a meaningful stat.
Beginning in year three under Enfield the Trojans’ record has been:
2016 – 21-13, tied for sixth in the league and lost by 1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament
2017 – 26-10, tied for fifth in the league and won an NCAA play-in game and second round game before losing to Baylor in the round of 32.
2018 – 24-12, second in the league. This was the year that Lynn Swann would not let D’Anthony Melton play. The Trojans were completely jobbed and left out of the Tournament despite their 12-6 conference regular season and two wins in the conference tournament before losing in the finals. The consolation prize was a number 1 seed in the NIT, but Chimezie Metu decided to sit out and avoid injury and the players’ hearts were not into playing in the NIT. They lost in the second round.
2019- 16-17, eighth in the league. Bennie Boatright’s injury problems hurt the team.
2020 – 22-9, tied for third in the league and a sure NCAA team before Covid.
Enfield’s Record Compared To Former Trojan Coaches
Bob Boyd coached the Trojans during the Wooden years and it was very tough to compete on the court or in the minds of Southern California sports fans. His overall record was 218-131, a .622 winning percentage, and 107-79 (.575) in conference games.
Stan Morrison’s teams were 103-95 (.520) overall and 62-64 (.492) in league play.
George Raveling teams were 115-118 (.494) and 60-84 (.416) in conference. He struggled in his first couple of years when the best three players left when he was hired, but he also had the three glory years with Harold Miner.
Henry Bibby – 131-111 (.541) and 70-74 (.486 ) in league play.
Tim Floyd – 64-49 (.566) and 29-33 (.467) in conference.
Kevin O’Neill – 38-65 (.429) and 21-37 (.362) in the league.
Andy Enfield – ignoring the first two years: his teams have been 109-61 (.641) overall and 50-40 (.555) in the Pac 12 entering this season. This record is good but not outstanding by any measurement except USC historical team records.
Enfield’s Players Improve At USC
Some fans complain that USC players don’t improve under Enfield’s tutelage. One way to look at player improvement is by the awards and recognition Enfield’s players have received:
In 2015 Jordan McLaughlin (Enfield’s first big recruit) made the PAC 12 All Freshman team.
In 2016 Julian Jacobs (one of two O’Neill holdovers who were PAC 12 caliber players) and JMac were Honorable Mention All Pac 12 and Bennie Boatwright was All Pac 12 Freshman Honorable Mention.
In 2017 Chimezie Metu was voted the league’s Most Improved Player and Second Team All Conference and JMac was Honorable Mention.
In 2018 JMac and Metu were All Pac 12 players.
In 2019 Bennie and Nick Rakocevic were all conference Honorable Mention.
And in 2020 Big O was first team all conference and Jonah Mathews was honorable mention.
Another way to measure player improvement at USC is by the eye test. Metu developed a far better offensive game in his three years at Troy. As a freshman Chimezie picked up fouls in bunches but he greatly improved his defense over the next two years. Bennie greatly improved his interior defense, rebounding and ability to drive to the basket at USC. JMac’s ball handling and passing became much better during his four years at Troy; in his first year or two he tried to drive down the lane whether he had an opening or not and often lost the ball. In his last two years he learned when he should and should not dribble into traffic. J Mac also became a better perimeter shooter.
Nick Rakocevic improved in every facet of his game. He was a foul machine as a freshman but learned to stay on the court and avoid most silly fouls (other than technicals). He became a tougher defender and rebounder and his offensive game expanded. Jonah Mathews significantly improved his ball handling at key times in games, improved his defense and became a confident player who wanted the ball in big situations.
Elijah Stewart greatly improved in his four years. As a freshman he scored 20 points in one game and didn’t score 20 in the next 10 games combined. He left USC with the career record for made threes until Jonah broke the record in the final regular season game last season. In the first five games this season Isaiah Mobley has played much stronger interior defense and is a lot better rebounder.
Trojan Players Are Getting Drafted And Are Playing In The NBA
Onyeka was the sixth pick in the draft this summer. Kevin Porter was the last pick in the first round the year before and is considered one of the few Cavaliers who can create his own shot.
D Melt was a mid second round pick a few years ago. He recently signed a four year contract with the Memphis Grizzlies for $34 million, $28 million of which is guaranteed. Chimezie was the 49th pick in the second round by the Spurs. He played two seasons with the Spurs, at times shuttling between San Antonio and its G League team and signed with Sacramento this off season.
JMac is currently a free agent and is expected to be picked up by an NBA team. He played significant minutes with Minnesota last season. Bennie was injured last season but recently signed with Memphis. The Grizzlies let a couple players go to sign Bennie and another young player.
The Trojans Are Bringing In Quality Players.
Enfield and his staff look for a certain body type in recruiting. They want length and athleticism. This season’s team has 12 scholarship players counting newly enrolled Reese Waters and Josh Morgan, who is redshirting this season. Almost without exception they are all very athletic. Reese is the third shortest player at 6’5”. They can all run and jump and are skilled with the ball.
Enfield has brought in a few players in recent years who were reaches and didn’t pan out, but not lately. No more Victor Uyaelunmos or Harrison Hendersons.
Last season there were eight new players. All five freshmen on last year’s team could play – Isaiah Mobley, Big O, Anderson, Sturdivant and Agbonkpolo. Grad transfer Daniel Utomi was a key contributor. Quinton Adlesh, the other grad transfer, could be labeled a miss, but he helped the younger players and was voted a team captain before he ever played in a game for the Trojans. The eighth new player last year, Noah Baumann, redshirted last season. He was lightly recruited but in his five games this season he has shown he will contribute.
This year six more players were added. Evan and Boubicar are freshmen. Boubicar has shown tremendous athleticism and should develop into a good rotation player over the next couple of years. Undergrad transfer Drew Peterson was a major get and Josh Morgan was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season as a freshman and is redshirting this year. The three grad transfers are all making contributions: Chevez Goodwin is the first big off the bench, Tajh Eaddy has scored in the high teens in three of the five games, and Isaiah White has impacted every game.
Four high school seniors have signed with USC for 2021; Reese Waters graduated early to play for the Trojans this spring and has already joined the team. He is one of the best offensive guards in the West. Malik Thomas (The Chosen 1) is a guard who can do everything – he can score from anywhere, is a good rebounder and can play on the ball. The third guard, Kobe Johnson from Wisconsin, can play both guard positions. The Trojans have signed Harrison Hornery, a 6’10” forward from high school power Mater Dei. Harrison is a top 150 recruit who can shoot from three. The Trojans also have a commitment from KJ Allen, a 6’6” JC forward who is very physical and is one of the top JC players in the country.
There has been a lot of turnover the last couple of years. Next year’s team should begin to stabilize with the five new players and Drew, Noah, Ethan, Josh Morgan, Isaiah Mobley and Max all eligible to return. Depending in part on how this season goes Isaiah Mobley might decide to enter the draft next spring. In this era there are a lot of player transfers, but Enfield is trying to get back to having most key players for 3-4 years while sprinkling in an occasional star.
The quality of recent Trojan recruits can be measured by the recruiting stars associated their names. Kevin Porter blossomed late; the Trojans had his commitment before a lot of other schools were on him. By the end of his high school career he was a five star recruit. Last year Onyeka and Isaiah were five star bigs, and Max was a four star. This year Evan is rated in the top three of his class. The newest players to sign with the Trojans are also highly regarded. Reese and Malik are four star guards and Malik is rising fast in the rankings.
Before the last few years the Trojans had never before signed two five star recruits in the same class or four in three years. I don’t think they ever signed two five star players in any three year before Enfield.
One Knock On Enfield That Is Often Heard Is That He Is Not A Good In-Game Coach
Some of the Trojan faithful praise Enfield for his recruiting but complain about his game preparation and in-game moves. When Enfield arrived he was quoted as saying that if a player wanted to play fast he should come to USC and if he wanted to play slow he should sign across town. When the Trojans had Jacobs and JMac they played fast but were not especially good on the defensive end. In the last few years, and especially since JMac graduated, the Trojans have emphasized defense much more because defense was a better fit with the team’s personnel. USC was one of the best defensive teams in the country last season playing almost exclusively man to man. So far this season the team played great defense in four of its five games, but it is very different brand of defense. With the Trojans’ size and lack of quick perimeter defenders Enfield has employed a lot of zone defense. So far, the team has played more zone each game; Enfield believes it allows the Trojans to make better use of their size. Last year and again this season so far the Trojans do not have an elite ball handler and are relying less on fast break opportunities. More possessions are played from half court sets but they will run when they have an opportunity and have elite finishers.
Enfield saw that his bigs last season were athletic enough to allow the Trojans to switch all ball screens by all players. This year the bigs are more athletic but don’t appear to be as comfortable defending outside. This is another reason the Trojans are playing more zone and will very likely play mostly zone against most teams.
Another change was apparent with Enfield’s first undermanned teams. He quickly installed a series of good inbound plays. Under O’Neill the Trojans had trouble inbounding the ball and under their own basket often opted to inbound the ball into the backcourt. Enfield has plays that allow the team to score a few easy baskets in most games inbounding in the front court.
Enfield has adjusted how the Trojans play to fit his personnel. Last year Onyeka was not especially good at finding open teammates on the offensive end and could not bring the ball up court after a defensive rebound. The Mobleys are both good passers from the blocks and up high and so far the bigs are getting more assists than last season. They can both handle the ball well enough to bring it up court after a defensive rebound and initiate the offense.
Enfield has also shown that he will make lineup changes which benefit the team. In the middle of last season he inserted Daniel Utomi into the starting lineup in place of Elijah Weaver. That change helped the team and both players. Weaver became the leader off the bench and Utomi was more effective when he started. At the beginning of last year Enfield started Big O, Isaiah and Nick the first few games. It was apparent that the team needed more help outside and after a few games Isaiah became the big man off the bench.
One more good lineup change. Julian Jacobs was the returning starting point guard when JMac arrived. Enfield quickly saw that the team played its best offense and had many more fast break opportunities when both point guards played together.
The Trojans are progressing under Enfield. Progress from year to year and within a season is not usually linear. Enfield’s players are far better at fundamentals on both ends than in prior regimes. His Trojan teams are entertaining and play hard. The one area which is disappointing is poor free throw shooting. Enfield was known as a Shot Doctor, so it’s bewildering why his teams can’t do better from the line.
In my opinion the Trojan basketball program is in the best shape in many decades and is poised to become better. There will always be some fans who gripe and are not happy with the current coach in any sport. However Enfield is a good fit and is the right coach for USC.